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La Jolla Hyatt
The Hyatt hotel in La Jolla, California was the site of the 2001 EPRI Non-road EV conference. Attendees had the chance to test drive everything from scooters to city EVs.

Smart Solutions Quietly Invade San Diego

A report from the frontlines of the EV revolution

By Bill Moore

Just south of San Diego, California is the Mexican Border. Here thousands of Mexican and American citizens peacefully cross their common international border. Often it is here too, as well as elsewhere along a thousand miles of desert wasteland and border towns, that tens of thousands of Mexicans try to slip into the US in a desperate desire for a better life.

So, it is with some irony that also this week, another invasion of sorts occurred in this bustling border town. This invasion is the vanguard of a worldwide movement to insure the world a better way of life, one that is cleaner, quieter, more humane.

With little notice and almost no fanfare, this invasion slipped quietly into the hills of La Jolla and took up a strategic position in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, occupying it for just 48 hours before slipping away. Really no more than a small company in size, this highly trained force was equipped with the very latest in non-road and recreational electric vehicles and PowerPoint presentations. Speeches were made and technology demonstrated, but the real question to be asked is did the invasion accomplish its objective?

I think it did, but ultimately it will be up to posterity to issue the final verdict.

The third annual EPRI conference devoted to non-road electric vehicle technology offered attendees the opportunity to do more than ride around in the Dynasty IT or the Th!nk Neighbor or on the Gorilla ATV. If attendees were expecting numerous exhibits and exhibitors, they were bound to be disappointed. This year's conference attracted even fewer exhibitors than the first conference held two years ago in Orlando, Florida. After that conference, I commented that if the conference is to succeed, it will need to grow, but perhaps that judgement was premature.

From my perspective, I found that I had more time to actually meet and interact with people in a much more personal way. There wasn't the same pressure to run off and see those exhibits you'd missed earlier or experiencing that harried feeling of not knowing which conference track to select out of the three or four concurrent ones being offered.

Instead, I got to spend time with folks like Evan Ballman, the president of MAC Brushless Motor Company and Mark Anderson of Toro and Sean McHenry of Pacific Golf Cars. I learned that it is Evan's company that makes ­ in India ­ the motor on my Currie electric bicycle. I found out why it is so hard to build a 21 inch, self-propelled, side-discharge, cordless electric mower (You could but it would cost a $1,000). I discovered that the Club Car Carry-All Sean helped design lets zoo keepers at the world famous San Diego Zoo get right next to the animals inside their exhibits, lions included, because the animals aren't frightened of EVs like they are ICE vehicles. (Is there a lesson here folks?)

I also got to talk with presidents of a handful of the world's leading EV companies including: Richard Mayer, the co-founder of Currie, Rob Stevens, the head of Th!nk Mobility, Jim Laidlaw of Electric Tractor and John Wang of Rad2Go,an innovative and prolific developer of electric scooter boards you'll probably hear a lot more about in the future.

And I also got in on a little gossip and rumor like GM buying Bombardier's NV program, which ­ if true -- is interesting since GM alleges in its law suit against the California Air Resource Board that neighborhood class vehicles are unsafe. And while we're on the topic of GM ­ who chose not to attend ­ comments were made over one luncheon table about a field-full of EV's sitting collecting dust in Van Nuys.

The woes of the Ford Explorer were also a topic of one private conversation during one continental breakfast, as was the fate of AB1390, a bill rumored to have been written by GM, that would if enacted allow car makers to buy out their compliance with the ZEV mandate, effectively killing any future EV development. According to a reliable source, at least two impassioned speeches against the bill on the California House floor derailed the measure, sending it into compromise negotiations.

On a more encouraging note, EV World learned that Toyota hasn't been resting on its Prius laurels. It's got something coming down the development pipeline that will again change the gasoline-electric hybrid playing field much the way the original Prius did in December, 1997. The cute little e-Com, however, seems doomed despite its advocates' best efforts. The reason doesn't seem to be price, technology or market, but in CARB's ZEV credit system, which lets a RAV4 EV earn 4 credits while an e-Com only earns a partial ZEV credit. Word is the e-Com, like the EV1, is probably history. That's too bad. Many of us think it has a viable niche to fill.

I also learned that Georgia Power's employee EV leasing program had an unexpected payoff for the company. It turns out that all those EVs featured recently in EV World forced Georgia Power to upgrade its electric power service into its parking garage, roughly equivalent to 1 megawatt of energy to service the several hundred EVs in its fleet. However, the company also learned that any concerns about EVs having a negative impact on the power grid during peak power usage are misplaced. It turns out they have no significant impact on peak power demands in Georgia Power's system. We'll do a story on this later this summer.

Global Electric Motor Cars had a significant presence at the conference and according to both Ken Montler, the president, as well as Jim Ramstad, the director of business development, their recent acquisition by DamilerChrysler has gone very smoothly. Both likened the relationship with DaimlerChrysler to a real "honeymoon" and they couldn't speak highly enough of Larry Oswald, the VP for EV and HEV development, and Mike Clements, the marketing director for alternative fuel vehicles.

Clearly, GEM is the NEV pacesetter with some 7,000 vehicles in service both in the US and Internationally. But Th!nk Mobility's Rob Stevens expressed his confidence that when the Neighbor begins rolling off the line in Detroit (it will no longer be built in Kansas) this September, it will capture its share of the market. As for news on the Th!nk city, Stevens reported that the first of several hundred European versions of the vehicle will be arriving in the US shortly for placement in a number of demonstration projects from New York to California, though giving one to EV World isn't in the cards just yet!

In the coming weeks, we'll share with you many of the excellent presentations delivered at the conference. EPRI graciously permitted EV World to record most of the speeches, and those that we weren't permitted to record, we will do follow telephone interviews with this summer.

Finally, besides the nearly two score photos reproduced below, we even shot some video of a test drive in the Dynasty IT, which in our view was clearly one of the more exciting vehicles at the conference. So watch ­ quite literally ­ for that.

Dynasty IT neighborhood-class electric vehicle hopes to carve its niche in areas both inside and outside the sunbelt. Thi s version is one of five different configurations. The company will start building the panel version this week.

Automobile-like dash reflects design philosophy of the IT which seeks to pick up the baton dropped by the Bombardier EV by offering a four-door, four passenger version.

Besides offering a surprisingly room interior, the IT also boasts a sizeable storage area behind the rear seat.

Dynasty Motor Cars' Graham Hill and Wayne Zawisza in front of the company's IT EV. Graham recently went to work for Dynasty after a stint with GEM.

This highly modified golf car shows what can be done to replace gasoline-powered service and deliver vehicles with quiet, pollution-free low speed EVs on business campuses and in car-free urban centers.

A pair of GEM NEVs. Despite what many initially considered its quirky design, the GEM has been the most successful neighborhood vehicle to date. Part of its success can be attributed to its adaptability as a two and four passenger vehicle, as well as a light duty carrier.

GEM Long Bed cargo carriers like this one are seeing service at Luke AFB, which has a fleet of over 350 electric vehicles. Despite often intense summer heat, Air Force personnel like these open vehicles over gasoline, air conditioned versions. Later this summer, we'll interview Luke's EV program manager to learn more about this program.

The Th!nk neighbor is due to begin shipment to selected Ford dealers starting in September. This model is an early prototype, but according to Rob Stevens, the production version will closely resemble it. Gone are the toy-like colors and features of the original concept vehicle first unvieled January 2000.

Th!nk city is the current jewel in the crown of Th!nk Mobility, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. If Toyota cancels the e-Com, the Th!nk will have the City-class of EVs all to itself.

The notion of having the City-EV class all to himself has to please Th!nk Mobility president Rob Stevens who poses here for EV World with this best Fortune magazine pose.

Sean McHenry explains how San Diego Zoo keepers use a twin of this Carry All to get up close to zoo animals, including lions. Would I like to see how? Not on your life, thank you!

The food was excellent. The turnout for the conference could have been better, but not the food. It was fantastic, especially the deserts. I promised to not tell Jim Ramstad's wife about how he helped himself to two pieces. Here Dynasty's Wayne Ziwasza helps himself to continental breakfast.

Barry Buske with Rad2Go EVs straddles Chinese-made electric bicycle. Rad2Go had on the order of a dozen different recreational EVs on hand from this bicycle to a dizzying array of electric scooter boards to two ATVs.

Rick Doran proudly poses with his electric Gorilla ATV. It is solidly built and sports a super-durable rotocast plastic body. It is also fast and has terrific hill-climbing capability. According to Rick at least one airline is looking at it as a baggage shuttler, but they want him to slow it down for fear airline employees will have too much fun with it.

Mac Brushless Motors' president Evan Ballman. We first met in Orlando at EVS14. While the core of his business is his battery charger, his electric scooter and bike motors are growing at a rapid clip. He's also developing components for the fuel cell industry and he's got a innovative new motor design in the works that could revolutionize both EVs and hybrids.

The congenial Robert "Bob" Hawkings is the transportation manager for Alabama Power and the chairman of the conference.

A little family nepotism as Chelsea Wallace demonstrates a Th!nk electric bike. Chelsea is the daughter of Th!nk director John Wallace.

EV World editor 'on the job' for our readers. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Here he's riding the most powerful of the Rad2Go scooter boards.

Times Article Viewed: 4253
Published: 08-Jun-2001

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